The gay community has allowed ourselves to be bamboozled again.
Last week, a controversy erupted over a student, Dakota Airy, at a Fort Worth High School who claimed that he was punished for merely stating in class that homosexuality is a sin. The student was allegedly suspended for his comments, his family retained the services of the anti-gay Liberty Counsel, and both the student and the Liberty Counsel made the round of right-wing blogs and sites claiming that what happened to him is the end result of “persecution by the gay community.”
And on some pro-gay sites, some folks flocked to the student’s defense, declaring that his First Amendment rights were being violated and that the situation hurts the gay community by demonstrating that we are as “intolerant” as those on the right.
Some of us flocked to the student’s defense even though we had seen this situation play out before – a controversy happens involving someone supposedly oppressed by the gay community, the person in question retains the services of a right-wing group who makes a media blitz, thereby getting publicity for the person. And when everything at its peak, the other side of the story comes out. Usually the supposed “victim” of the gay community did not tell the entire story, which when told, makes him or her look less like a victim and more like someone who got what they deserved.
Well you can file this story of the “oppressed student” in that category. According to Marvin Vann, a member of the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S, in an interview with the Dallas Voice, the suspension may have been due to a history of harassment against the teacher who called out Airy for his comment.
This is what Vann said:
Kristopher Franks, a German teacher with a long and distinguished service record at Western Hills High School, is currently being investigated by FWISD administrators, swayed by a right-wing attempt to rouse public opinion against him for having the temerity to write a disciplinary referral against Dakota Ary, a student whom Franks reports publicly harassed him in class on the basis of the student’s perception that Mr. Franks is gay. This is being depicted in numerous news reports as an effort to suppress the student’s First Amendment right to free speech. As Franks and the district cannot speak to media while the incident is being investigated by the district, only the student and his Liberty Institute lawyer’s version of the incident is being reported in the media.
The gist of these reports is that Ary, during a discussion about religion and homosexuality in his first-year German class, expressed the opinion that “I am a Christian, and I believe that homosexuality is wrong,” and was subsequently sent out of class with a disciplinary referral by his teacher, Mr. Franks, and then given a three-day suspension from an assistant principal.
I and other members of LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., a group formed a year ago in response to local and national incidents of school-based, anti-LGBTQ incidents of harassment, became aware of this incident last week, shortly after the first, distorted media reports came out. Concerned that only one side of the incident was being reported, we met Friday night with Mr. Franks. His account contradicts Ary and his lawyer’s version of events, and has been substantiated by several of the other students in class at the time. We found Mr. Franks’ explanation entirely credible.
He reports (and has reported to his school) repeated acts of anti-gay harassment by several students that occurred this and last year, including by a group of four specific boys in this class, of whom Ary is one. Among other incidents, Mr. Franks maintains a “word wall” for his German IV class on which he posts articles and images from several journals, including the German magazine, Stern. One of these articles concerned gay rights in Germany, and included a photo of two men kissing. The group of four boys concerned was sitting near this image immediately before Mr. Franks found it had been ripped from the wall. The student and his lawyer are now asserting that including this photo among the others constituted his teacher’s “imposing acceptance of homosexuality” in his classroom. These students subsequently took every opportunity to denounce homosexuality in class, frequently without context; that is, with the topic having otherwise been broached.
On the particular day in which this incident occurred, Mr. Franks was opening class when the topic of Christianity in Germany was broached by one student, who asked what churches were there, another whether they read the Bible in English, etc. Franks asserts that the topic of homosexuality was not broached in any way, and that Ary‘s assertions to the contrary are entirely false. At this point, Ary declared, with a class audience, “Gays can’t be Christians; homosexuality is wrong,” looking directly at Mr. Franks. Franks says he understands and affirms students’ right to free speech, and that he is perfectly prepared to lead a respectful discussion on topics such as gay rights that allows for the assertion of opinions with which he disagrees. He has led such discussion in the past in his sociology classes. But in this case, hr feels the context makes it clear that this remark was made ad hominem, aimed specifically at him to devalue him and any information he might share on the topic of religion, on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation.
The point is this – when these situations happen, can those of us in the gay community please retain comments until the entire story is heard? We end up hurting ourselves by automatically giving religious right claims credibility, even though these claims have, in the past, shown to be false.
I remember when former Obama appointee Kevin Jennings was falsely accused of pushing a minor into having sex with an adult two years ago.
Some of us wrote his epitaph ourselves. I even had a friend who told me to stop defending Jennings because he was clearly in the wrong.
And what did the truth show? Not only did Jennings not induce the student into having sex with an adult, but the student did not have any type of sexual intercourse, AND the student was of legal age if he had.
It all goes to show that if gay community want others to question the lies of the right, we need to not be so quick to believe them ourselves.
I understand the need for the gay community to demonstrate fairness but if a group of individuals – i.e. the religious right – have lied continuously concerning stories of “gay persecution,” it is not a strike against basic fairness to call their newest claim into suspect.
Huge hat tip to Think Progress on this one.